NEWS & ANALYSIS

Don't sneer at the thin blue line

Mike Berger responds to the commentary on his piece on SONA and the DA

The idea behind Politicsweb is dialogue, so here goes in response to some comments on "SONA chaos..." plus some of my own "second thoughts". I do not write as a politician. I don't have the temperament or desire. Of course it is wonderfully cathartic to be a team member and bash the opposition or, like our ubiquitous ., to throw out a host of "factoids" mixed with thumb-suck assertions to keep the other team off balance, but (with exceptions) it is not my style. So for those who don't like my film crit. or style or confuse me with George van Onselen or Jeremy Cronin (what have these estimable gentlemen done to deserve such obloquy?), or insinuate I am a DA hack etc, etc - sorry, go bark at the moon.

So what's left? Veja becomes agitated by the words "missionary" and then sticks on the words "civilising influence over the natives" and "superiority" fantasies. It is an old technique heavily used by the ANC propagandists. English is full of vivid metaphors and potent words which can be exploited to impute sinister motives and attitudes to others which they don't possess. The beating of Zille with the word "refugee" comes to mind; but I'll come back to "missionary" later.  

He goes onto say that I (and my ilk, of course) "find it hard to accept that democracy has dawned and your role has been relegated to a bit part in the unfolding South African success story, led by the glorious movement of the people, the ANC. As we travel in the world we are treated as a success story of Africa and those that come here, always wonder out loud about the anachronistic noisy white racists who inhabit these shores and their anti-government media friends."

Putting aside the overblown rhetoric let's get it out in the open that some (maybe many?) people do indeed support the DA for "primitive identity" or outrightly racist reasons. Few of us are entirely free of racial stereotyping - including Veja himself I suspect - but, to its credit, the DA itself has never played the racist card and has moved mountains to become a party for all the people - led by Zille. That required a profound change in the "culture" of the DA which derived from a proud liberal tradition, mainly the preserve of the white population with notable adherents from other ethnic groups.

Rather than sneer you may reflect that it is that tradition which largely stands between our democratic state and a descent into the Mugabe failed state-dictatorship  on our Northern border. It is that tradition which keeps at bay the worst excesses of EFF demagogues and hardcore Stalinist socialism - the prospect of a Cuban-style glorious socialist "paradise" of frightened sheep and ravenous wolves. So bluster all you want but for your own sake you had better make sure that the DA is alive and kicking in South Africa.

"How can a serious, objective analyst be so partisan towards...the DA?" from Sarah Dilo. The question is topsy-turvy: the problem is how can one not be in our current political context? That is the sad reality of our politics: that we have a disastrously weak, deeply corrupt, factionalised and shakily democratic ruling party and a vigorous opposition. As I have already stated I am not a party loyalist. The party owes me, not the other way around.

Note to Zille and Dilo: if a better party than the DA appeared on the scene I would (possibly with some regret) promptly dump the DA for the alternative - including the ANC. From every evidence, however, that seems in no danger of happening. The performance of the ANC both in opposition in the Western Cape and in charge elsewhere is so lacking in integrity and vision, so appallingly opportunistic and so incompetent that Western Cape voters do not have a choice, short of committing collective political suicide.

This is a sad state of affairs. The complaint that we do not have a viable two-party system cuts both ways. Not only is it extremely difficult for the DA to break into power at the national level for reasons too obvious to repeat here, but for the rational, reasonably detribalised voter the only available choice is the DA. That is not good. I want strong opposition to the DA to offer me an alternative and to keep them from complacency and arrogance. We just don't have it and, sooner or later, the wider South African electorate will dump the ANC if it continues with its embarrassing current leadership and abysmal performance. The problem is, what then?

These are not academic questions. Zille's challenge was uncharacteristically weak. Democracy was not put at risk because security forces appeared to confront the deliberately anarchic and potentially violent provocations of the EFF. Failure to ensure that order was restored or to have allowed the EFF to force an adjournment would have been a shamefully weak answer to grossly anti-democratic challenge.

That indeed would put orderly democracy (there is no other sustainable kind) at risk.  Failure of the DA to perceive and acknowledge that is deeply worrying and suggests to me it has lost its bearings in the pursuit of political power and/or in the heat of its struggle with an ANC which is subverting the institutional foundations of democracy for its own ends.

It is important for the DA to recalibrate its vision and its mission. We can only applaud the DA in its dogged use of the legal avenues available to challenge the government and its ability to get its message across in the face of a conformist and partly co-opted media. We applaud its hard work and its ability, so far, to maintain party coherence.  But it will sacrifice its own brand if in the pursuit of short-term goals it sacrifices its core identity as a socially sensitive, inclusive, liberal, entrepreneurial, meritocratic party committed to clean politics.

No one, least of all me, can foretell the future and I have no idea what is in store for this country. But I have little doubt that unless we have a party like the DA holding fast to its core principles and keeping its head free of the swirling currents of popular fashion, the rocky road we are on leads only to the abyss. I wish I could claim the converse with equal conviction.

My final suggestion to dot, Veja, Dilo, Domsa et al: you can pontificate all you like but for your own sake and the sake of your children you better pray for the DA. And you had better pray that the ANC escapes the clutches of the Zuma faction - soon - and manages to find within its ranks sufficient members of integrity and vision to become worthy opponents to the DA. Only then will we have a viable two party system for the South African voter to chose from.

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